A sparse yet obviously obsessively devoted audience is gathered in The Button Factory for this gig by Brooklyn anti-folk singer/songwriter (and noted cartoonist) Jeffrey Lewis, a man who almost single-handedly defines the phrase ‘cult figure’.
One of the most oft-heard criticisms of Lewis (and, by extension, of the entire anti-folk movement, all the way back to Moldy Peaches, for whom Lewis did cover art) is that the songs, such as they are, are entirely vehicles for delivering words, and you wouldn’t listen to his albums for the sounds. But that’s not completely true, and thankfully he is here backed by a band (rhythm section of Jack and Dave, plus Nan of Schwervon on keyboards and girlie vocals), who helped augment his palate so that it can veer from splintering ambience to fuzzed-out excess. After all, that may be a beat-up Epiphone acoustic guitar Lewis is playing, but it’s got a Seymour Duncan humbucker pick up fitted across its sound hole, and is played through a Fender Twin Reverb amp. Additional diversion is also supplied by intermittent forays into Jeffrey’s productivity as a visual artist, with a film of cartoon drawings entitled ‘The Renaissance’ serving as a backdrop for a song (presumably) of the same name, and a flip-chart cartoon book to accompany his acapella cover of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Mojo Pin’.
The set dips into various selections from his decade-long career, from ‘You Don’t Have To Be A Scientist To Do Experiments On Your Own Heart’ and ‘No LSD Tonight’ from It’s The Ones Who’ve Cracked That The Light Shines Through to ‘Slogans’ from ‘Em Are I, to a couple of anarcho-syndicalist hymns from his 12 Crass Songs covers project. Not unpredictably, there is a generous smattering from soon to be released new album, A Turn In the Dream Songs (after Okkervil River’s ‘John Allyn Smith Sails’ and The Hold Steady’s ‘Stuck Between Stations’, yet another indie reference to that increasingly popular exemplar, confessional poet John Berryman), which includes: ‘Cult Boyfriend’, ‘How Can It Be?’, ‘I Got Lost (The Same Time As You), and ‘Mosquito Mass Murderer’. The encore features crowd favourite ‘Don’t Be Upset’ from City & Eastern Songs.
While perhaps not quite in the same league as the predecessors he most closely resembles, Jonathan Richman and Daniel Johnston, as either an emotionally resonant lyricist or a varied enough melodist, his is still an idiosyncratic vision, and it’s a good night out.